It’s not usually good communication to begin with a disclaimer. But I need to make one today. When I talk about how churches can get the most out of Christmas, I don’t mean for one moment that Christmas is about what we get out of it, as though Christmas was like a football game, shopping trip or Hallmark family movie, only with a seasonal veneer. While we sometimes may view Christmas that way—especially in churches because Christmas programming typically comes pre-packaged and easy to put into place—it does violence to the biblical teaching and historical celebration of Jesus’ birth.
So what do we mean by churches getting the most out of Christmas? Just this: How can churches make the most out of the Christmas season in terms of reaching people with the gospel? Answering this question is really important, because Christmas presents a golden opportunity to reach out to people outside the church, many of whom are more open to spiritual truths at this season than at any other time. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Every church should have Christmas Eve services. I know some churches that don’t for the simple reason that their ministers are lazy and don’t want to give up their personal time in order to lead a service at their church. That attitude’s just crazy. The fact is that Christmas Eve services have a higher attendance than any other service of the year (including Easter) and a higher percentage of non-believers. Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of that?
2. Church leadership should make deliberate use of the high attendance during Christmas to prepare for the January-Easter period. Here’s what we’re learning at our church: people are more responsive to church connections during the winter and early spring than at any other time of the year because there’s less going on in that period to distract them. I’m not excusing that attitude, just making an observation. And the natural lead-in to that period is the Christmas season, when people’s attention naturally swings toward spiritual truths. Why wouldn’t we work with that natural inclination to the benefit of the church’s mission, instead of ignoring it or even condemning it? Use the four weeks of the Christmas season to get your church’s vision out there for the following few months.
3. Preach the cross at Christmas. I’m not saying every sermon should be mainly devoted to Jesus’ crucifixion. I am saying that the birth of Jesus is incomprehensible apart from his death and resurrection. If we as preachers spend the Christmas celebration trying to make our congregations feel all warm and fuzzy about the little baby in the manger while neglecting the fullness of the gospel, we’re giving our people—as well as the non-believers in our churches—less than the truth. We can be creative enough in telling the Christmas story to weave into the account the richer truths of the cross.
4. Keep your Christmas celebrations as simple as possible. Sometimes we try to do so much around Christmas that we lose focus and effectiveness. Every church is different, and the Christmas schedule of one will always be different than that of another, because of congregational gifting, expectations and history. Still, we in American churches almost always struggle with the pagan idol of “More,” especially at Christmas.
In other words, if we had 1000 people come to our Christmas program last year, then we should have “More” next year, or we’re doing something wrong. Or, if last year we had three services last year then next year we should have four, or we’re falling behind. We’re always searching for “More,” not necessarily because God wants it that way but because our sinful hearts have bought into the American consumer mentality. Here’s what I mean. This is the Christmas musical from a large Baptist church in Texas. I look at this and wonder if the apocalypse is upon us.
“More” doesn’t mean better. In fact, it may not even mean “More” because the more of something you have, the less valuable it is. One Five Guys hamburger is really good; three would make me never want to go in there again. We should plan our Christmas celebrations at church, not on the basis of how much stuff we can pack into the few weeks of the season but according to how can we best sharpen our focus into a faithful and meaningful celebration of Jesus’ birth.
May your celebration of Christmas this year leave your heart in a state of worship, quietness and peace.